The Poets

December 29, 2010

The House on the Hill - A Villanelle

The villanelle is a poetic form that, aside from blank verse, that I consider to be one of the most difficult to handle. They consist of 19 lines that are broken up into five tercets and a concluding quatrain. Villanelles are usually done in iambic pentameter, but I’ve seen them done using several different types of meter (e.g. the poem considered here revolves around a trimeter).

The rhyme scheme is the most trying aspect of the poem: aba aba aba aba aba abaa. Seems somewhat simple on the surface, but it becomes exceedingly complicated due to the alternating refrain that weaves itself throughout the entire poem: aba aba aba aba aba abaa. Another way to write the structure is this: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2 (where ‘A’ = the refrain).

As I mentioned in a previous post:

In other words, the first refrain (the first line) is repeated in lines 6, 12, and 18; while the second refrain (the third line) is repeated in lines 9, 15, and 19. Meanwhile, to add to the difficulty, the composer has to maintain 7 rhymed words on the one hand, 6 rhymed words on the other, while puzzling in the refrains so that the poem makes sense as the meaning of the refrains alternate ...

Below is a villanelle written by Edwin Arlington Robinson- one of the first villanelles I came across.

It is said that the poem is a bleak reflection on death and the seeming isolation that follows thereafter (apparently Robinson experienced the death of almost every immediate family member very early on). The ‘house’ may represent an actual house he grew up in as he experienced these tragedies, or, ‘house’ may very well be a euphemism for the Oak Grove Cemetery plot purchased for the family. What do you think?

Anyhow, here is that poem- enjoy the structure!

The House ong the Hill

They are all gone away,
The house is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one today
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away.

And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Knowing the history of the demise of his family, it feels to me as if the house dually represents the actual house as well as the family unit. It reeks of the desolation and burden of having no one to carry on the family stories. "There is nothing left to say" - the end of a lineage.

I'd like to know more about stanzas 4 and 5... they seem to allude to some unresolved family strife that that now seems meaningless.

A very haunting and sad piece.

As of April 9th, 2010